TO THE MOON (Nightstream Fest 2021) – Review by Alexandra Heller-Nicholas

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Dennis (Scott Friend) and Mia (Madeleine Morgenweck) have got problems. Making an admirable effort to try and save their marriage after a tragic loss and Dennis’s significant substance abuse issues have all but destroyed his career, the young couple seek a quiet break from the pressures of urban life in Dennis’s family’s isolated country cabin. So far so good, until Dennis’s estranged brother Roger (Will Brill) appears. Having missed his brother’s wedding due to the couple’s inability to locate him, a passing reference to “the hospital” and Roger’s eccentric behavior give us all the information we need to fill in the blanks.

The question that dominates To the Moon is, however, if eccentricity is all we’re dealing with here. With his own bespoke brand of something resembling yoga providing some of the film’s more light-hearted moments, Roger is, to opt for the vernacular, certainly “out there”. Earnestly helping his brother and his sister-in-law to heal from their respective traumas – Dennis especially, as he goes cold turkey – Roger uses locally foraged berries to make a special tea to nurse them back to health. Maybe. And did I say there are mysterious, red cloaked monks that roam the property? There are mysterious red cloaked monks that roam the property. The reasons why – and much more besides – are all up for grabs in this enigmatic, performance-focused film that deliberately leaves as much unanswered as it resolves.

Running just over 80 minutes in length, To the Moon is a lithe, powerful little film written, directed and co-starring Friend and currently playing at the Nightstream virtual film festival. Set in one location with a key cast of only three characters, it uses its slender production context to great effect, granting each of the three central players enormous scope to flesh out their characters. Of these, Brill as Roger is certainly the stand-out; not due to anything lacking with Friend or Morgenweck’s performances (they are great), but just because Roger is such an absolutely off-the-wall, excessive character.

Indeed, the great riddle of the film is just what underscores the fundamentally wackadoodle nature of Roger as the human spanner in the already complicated works. Is he merely a quirky, unconventional blast from the past, or is there something more malign at work? And, again, what the hell is going on with those damned red cloaked monks, and what is Roger’s connection to them…if any? Destined to irk some as much as it will impress others, it is precisely the disinterest in To the Moon to make a one-size-fits all psychological thriller that remains its stand-out feature. While not for everyone, for those on its wavelength, To the Moon is guaranteed to get under your skin, where it leaves a stain difficult to remove.

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Alexandra Heller-Nicholas

Alexandra Heller-Nicholas is a multi award-winning film critic from Melbourne, Australia. She was an editor at Senses of Cinema from 2015 to 2018, and is a Rotten Tomatoes approved critic for ABC Radio in Australia, She has written for Film International, Diabolique Magazine, Vulture, Overland, The Big Issue and her own website, The Blue Lenses. She has written eight books on cult, horror and exploitation cinema and co-edited collections on Elaine May, Hélène Cattet and Bruno Forzani, Peter Strickland, and Alice in Wonderland in film. She frequently contributes commentaries, liner notes and video essays to home entertainment releases from companies such as Arrow Video, Kino Lorber, Eureka Entertainment, Second Sight and Severin Films. She is a Research Fellow at RMIT University and an Adjunct Professor at Deakin University, and a member of the advisory board of the Miskatonic Institute of Horror Studies (LA, NYC, London).